Training and competing at the highest level of the sport requires dedication and commitment, but many high performance athletes cannot afford to focus solely on their athletic pursuit and postpone a second career until they retire from competitive sport.
Australian Canoe Slalom paddler Noemie Fox works as a Transformation Analyst for leading global professional services company Accenture and is just one of many top athletes who have to pursue a dual career to be able to chase their sporting ambitions.
To celebrate this year’s National Career Week (16-22 May), the annual event promoted by the Career Industry Council of Australia to support career development, many organisations including the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) are offering athletes like Fox resources, webinars and workshops to help shine a light on career opportunities and support networks available for high-performance athletes.
Coming from one of the most successful Australian canoeing families, Fox grew up around the sport and started competing when she was 14. Now 25, the French-born Australian said that despite her sporting achievements, she has always placed an importance on pursuing a career outside the rapids.
“It definitely takes a certain level of discipline and motivation to fit high performance sport into a full-time work schedule. My coach and support team have always encouraged my career outside of the water and made flexible arrangements during busy work or university times.
“As I have balanced both sport and education my whole life, I’ve developed really good time management and prioritisation skills,” said Fox, who believes sport cultivates many transferable skills that can add value to the business world, such as resilience, the ability to perform under pressure, adaptability and coachability.
When she was offered a Graduate opportunity to join Accenture in October last year, Fox decided to pursue full-time work. As organisations grew more comfortable with working-from-home arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic, the added flexibility helped her pull off a demanding dual-career balancing act.
“It allowed me to make better use of every hour of the day,” Fox explained, adding that despite the additional load, it’s important for all athletes to find a sense of balance outside of sport, whether that be work, study or even another hobby.
“I personally know that this work/paddling balance has always given me a sense of drive, motivation and purpose,” said Fox, who is grateful to now work for a company that values her athletic qualities and sporting ambitions, offering her the flexibility to work remotely and take time off for competitions.
“Having a network at work or training that encourages both pursuits and values this work/sport balance is invaluable,” she said.
“It can be very daunting to express the flexibility and arrangements required by your employer to meet your training and competition goals.
“I’ve always found that communicating my sporting and career goals early has helped me understand if I’m in the right place! I now know that it is possible to do both and more and more companies are starting to understand, respect and value the qualities athletes can bring to the workplace, especially in the business world.”
Even with the support of an understanding employer, Fox recognises that working and paddling full-time is challenging and can be very mentally taxing at times.
“The time constraint of full-time work also means I have less time to spend on recovery, such as physiotherapy.
“However, I personally know that having a dual career has always given me a long-term sense of drive, motivation and purpose,” Fox said.
Having recently won national titles in the Kayak Single and Canoe Single competitions at the Paddle Australia 2022 Canoe Slalom Championships, Fox is planning to use that motivation to keep the momentum going as she prepares for the international season.
Flexible working arrangements will allow her to reduce her job commitments to two days a week while on tour, to focus more on training and competition as the upcoming ICF World Cup events pave the way for the ICF World Championships later in the year.